Yesterday’s bone rattling 72nd edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was another entertaining affair which mirrored last year’s battle between Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan. With today’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne forming the second half of a weekend few would want to be in the saddle for, it will not only be a case of who looks in good shape here, but also who survived yesterday best too. The course is a snaking 200.7km of familiar Belgian roads and hellingen, continually sapping the legs of the riders, often culminating in a sprint finish to crown the day’s victor. Last year’s winner Jasper Stuyven caused a major upset when attacking solo, fending off a large coordinated chasing group and crossing the finish line uncontested. Given the depth of sprinting talent on offer today, it is anticipated that the day’s finale should once again take the shape of a large bunch kick, especially with Stuyven’s victory still fresh in the mind of many.
Tom Boonen abandoned yesterday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad having realised that his chances of victory had slipped away up the road in the wheel tracks of Sep Vanmarcke, Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan. His team Quick Step had failed to feature amongst the crucial move and will have no doubt been told that the same cannot be allowed to happen here as well. Boonen is eager to sign off his final races with victories on home soil, meaning there is no question as to how focused he will be to securing a good performance today.
Sam Bennett might be afforded the support of World Champion teammate Peter Sagan in an attempt to lead the Irishman out for victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Bennett is a gritty rider at times and can summon up the determination required to survive these attritional races ahead of a bunch kick.
Alexander Kristoff will be a favourite for many as the Norwegian seeks to kickstart his classics campaign with an early victory upon the cobblestones. He has finished second on a couple of occasions at this race in recent years and may find that third time is the charm after an encouraging start to his season so far.
Peter Sagan may well decide that he should be gifted leadership here, attempting to resolve yesterday’s disappointment of finishing second to Greg Van Avermaet yet again at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Though many of the sprinters in the mix for this are much faster than Sagan, this fact becomes less relevant after 200km of riding, after which we can expect Sagan to be one of the fastest left in the race.
Arnaud Démare is still developing a profile amongst the one day classics, though does appear to show a level of natural ability when it comes to these long affairs which are intended to break many riders ahead of the finish. He does not always show the wisest of tactical decisions, but his survival skills and sprinting ability are well documented, making him a contender regardless.
Nacer Bouhanni possesses everything required to win this race, yet may find himself forgotten by some pundits due to his lack of major one day race victories. The last couple of seasons have seen him perform well at classics such as Milan – San Remo, keeping himself safe throughout the race, then bursting to the fore with his signature burst of acceleration.
1st Alexander Kristoff 2nd Nacer Bouhanni 3rd Sam Bennett